Best Podcast 2020 | Sam Walker's Desert Diaries | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Sam Walker left her long career with the BBC after falling in love with the desert Southwest. Along with her husband and two kids, she made the move from England to Arizona, where she launched the Desert Diaries podcast, which follows the family's adventures in a new culture and a new landscape. Through weekly episodes blending childlike wonder with dry humor, Walker helps listeners see the mundane and quirkier elements of life in the Sonoran through fresh eyes, even as she encourages them to find and follow their own dreams. Walker's work blends tough realism with flights of fancy, helping listeners navigate everything from parenting to pandemic life.

In a world where we're constantly bombarded by neverending digital visual stimuli, it's sometimes nice to just sit and listen. When we need such an audio balm, we turn the dial to KJZZ, the National Public Radio member station based at Rio Salado College. The listener-supported radio station presents a mix of international, national, and local news, along with classic jazz and blues. You can start your day with The Show, featuring in-depth interviews focused on local issues, or wind down at night with relaxing music. KJZZ presents an eclectic range of podcasts, including Untold Arizona and Defining Moment, and its Frontera desk keeps listeners abreast of stories happening along the U.S.-Mexico border. It's an essential resource for listeners who want to stay informed, connected, and inspired to participate in the civic life of metro Phoenix.

KCDX is an oddity and outlier among local radio stations: no DJs, no advertisements, and no B.S. — just a freeform playlist of rock rarities, B-sides, and deep cuts compiled by the station's owner, an enigmatic and reclusive entrepreneur called The Guru. Its 2,700-watt signal, broadcast from the Pinal Mountains outside Globe, reaches a large chunk of the Valley but will sometimes fade into static depending on your location. When KCDX comes in clear, though, it's pure retro gold. One minute, the trippy riffs of "The Bomber" by James Gang fill your ears; the next, it's the arty post-punk of Television's "Venus" getting a spin. A little later, Dr. John's "Jet Set" is cued up after some album-oriented rock by Crack the Sky or another band rarely heard on commercial radio. Sure, overplayed standards like "Hotel California" slip in occasionally, but we're willing to forgive The Guru for such transgressions, as long as he keeps feeding us a steady diet of these beautiful rock 'n' roll transmissions.

Dana Cortez takes her position as the first Latina host of a nationally syndicated morning radio show seriously, but her a.m. program on FM serves fun and food for thought through such segments as "WTF Stories" about people doing wacky things in the news (like the guy who proposed to his girlfriend while being arrested) and "CholoFit" exercise sessions with comedian Frankie Quiñones, a.k.a. Creeper. The banter between Cortez and her co-hosts Anthony A and DJ Automatic (her husband of 12 years) is always honest and often edgy, and fits with the station's hip-hop music format. Cortez has said she considers the show's listeners family, and she constantly interacts with her listeners via on-air phone calls and games and provides resources like virtual job fairs. The show even coordinated "The World's Biggest Quinceañera" shortly after launching in the Valley in September 2019.

Cindy Dach is the co-founder of Changing Hands Bookstores in Tempe and Phoenix, two of the Valley's greatest treasures for readers. She's literally made words her life, so it's no surprise she can tell a good story. Though Dach stays busy trying to keep Amazon at bay and participating in the local arts scene, if you're lucky, you can catch one of her personal storytelling performances at a local Bar Flies event (for now, flying in the virtual world). On stage, Dach doesn't try to act out her stories — it's her words and humor that pull you in. She's got the ability to make you see scenes from her own life and the people and things in it: her grandmother's diamond ring, her father as he dies of cancer. You know that full feeling you get after finishing a good short story that taught you something new and profound about the world? That's how we feel listening to Dach.

For nearly four years, this quarterly collection of stories from the Black community has enlightened and entertained local audiences. Performers in the series, which recently shifted to online streaming, are coached by spoken word pro Rachel Egboro, who founded the event and curates each installment. A recent Whole Story included monologues from a man who'd been training for boot camp his whole life; a woman who grappled with raising a daughter in today's politically charged world; and a man who turned his HIV-positive diagnosis into a life's mission. Egboro, recently named one of Phoenix Business Journal's "40 Under 40," has thus far brought us 46 storytellers who've told 61 stories from the Black perspective. We're looking forward to hearing many more.

Local comic book artists don't get much bigger than Todd McFarlane. But if bestowing this award on the comics legend, um, spawns some major nerd rage for forsaking local indie creators, we assure you he qualifies. No question. McFarlane's a longtime Valley resident who still illustrates comics on the regular. When not running his multimillion-dollar toy empire or Image Comics (the publishing house he co-founded in 1992 with fellow ex-Marvel artists), he's inking and penciling the latest issues of Spawn, his brainchild and iconic creation. And the cursed antihero looks just as fearsome as ever, rendered in the same intricate and highly detailed style that McFarlane used to reinvent Spider-Man in the late '80s. Now if only he could find enough time in his busy schedule to navigate his cinematic Spawn reboot out of development hell.

"Seasons will not be still, / Filled with the migrations of birds / Making their blank script on the open sky, / those hasty notes of centuries-old goodbye." So soars the poem "The Morning News," found in Not Go Away Is My Name, the latest book by Nogales-born poet and ASU English professor Alberto Rios. For decades, Rios has been one of Arizona's best homegrown voices. His range effortlessly spans from poetry to nonfiction. Capirotada, his memoir of growing up in a town divided by the border, is essential Arizona reading. But his work, too, has broad national appeal. Earlier this year, a New York Times Magazine reviewer deemed Not Go Away Is My Name "a major book for our time." We couldn't agree more.

Natalie Diaz defies the stereotype of poets as isolated souls. As the founding director for the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands at ASU, she forges community through conversation and collaboration. Diaz identifies as Mohave, Akimel O'odham, and Latinx, as well as queer. She has a wide range of talents, from linguistics to basketball, which also inform her work. The breadth and depth of both her journeys infuse her work with insights and emotions that call into question assumptions about identity, place, and relationship. Through her powerful, poetic voice, Diaz calls others to create new landscapes and futures together.

Men shouldn't be afraid to attend a performance of The Bro Show. The comedy sketch show, produced and performed by local comedians Courtney Wahlstrom and Dana Whissen, takes hilarious and much-needed jabs at male stereotypes (like that guy on your corporate softball team who picked 69 for his jersey number). The duo perform as C-Dog and Angus, respectively, two bruhs who met at an open mic night, and guest comedians join them onstage playing a variety of characters. But the skewering of toxic masculinity, chauvinism, and sexual double standards is for the sake of the joke as opposed to making a political statement, so fellas, leave your fear (and ego) at the door and enjoy this high-quality roasting of your gender.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of